10/15/2003 12:00AM

Turf season nears end with Violet


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The leaves have started to turn colors, and the wind has a cool bite in the morning. As the season changes, racing fans know the days of turf racing in the area are dwindling to a precious few.

The last major opportunity to run on the grass in New Jersey comes Friday night at The Meadowlands in the Grade 3, $150,000 Violet Handicap.

"The grass stakes are getting few and far between," said Buzz Tenney, the chief assistant to Shug McGaughey, who sends out Vespers in the Violet. "We'll probably get a few at Aqueduct in November before we're done."

The final graded stakes of the meet, the 1 1/16-mile Violet drew nine fillies and mares.

Vespers comes into the race fresh from a solid allowance effort at Belmont in which she rallied from far back to miss by a nose.

"That last one was a real nice race," Tenney said. "She's an honest, hard-trying little filly."

Vespers has run very competitively in allowance races throughout the year. She was not a factor in three Grade 3 handicaps this year: the Sabin at Gulfstream, the Gallorette at Pimlico, and the Ballston Spa Breeders' Cup at Saratoga.

Vespers will need a top effort in what looks like a highly competitive race.

Trainer Todd Pletcher entered a powerful entry of Dancal and Something Ventured. Both ran nice races to finish second and third behind Wonder Again in the Grade 3 Noble Damsel Handicap at Belmont.

Dancal rallied to land the runner-up spot, missing by a neck. She has come from well off the pace in both her starts since returning to the U.S. from Dubai.

Something Ventured held a narrow lead turning for home in the Noble Damsel and settled for third while beaten only a half-length. She prefers to rate closer to the pace, a stalking style that has produced seven in-the-money finishes from eight starts this year.

Other proven stakes fillies in race include Caught in the Rain, winner of the Grade 3 Mrs. Revere Stakes at Churchill Downs last November; Cocktailsandreams, who ran third in her last two outings including the Grade 3 Matchmaker Handicap at Monmouth; and Delta Princess, winner of the Grade 3 Beaugay Handicap at Aqueduct on Kentucky Derby Day.